The Mayan tour

15 May

While we’re here in El Salvador for a bit, it would be nice to see some of the country, we organised a day visiting the Mayan sites that cover El Salvador. Mainly all of Central American is Mayan, Mexico was the place the Aztecs hung out and further down is where the Inca’s are. The tour van picked us up from the lobby here in the resort early, me and Katie have been really excited about this, we both loved learning about the Aztecs etc in school, now we’re actually getting to see some of the sites similar to the ones we studied in school! Getting a tour is quite a lot of money but we have the advantage of having someone explain everything to us…in English! We also get an air conditioned van, water and security, hopefully we won’t have to use the latter. It was 7.45am and we were waiting for the tour guys to get here, then we got chatting to these 2 guys! They live in a tree in a barrel that’s on it’s side nailed to a branch, we were watching them for a while, they go up to this door and knock for someone to come and get them their breakfast, clever things!

Success

Watching them more we saw that they ate the bread until they got to the crusts, they would then dip the crusts into their water then eat it!

The tour guys showed up and we all got introduced to the driver, who speaks no English and the tour guide who was extremely friendly, as we were driving out of the hotel he pointed out a Cashew tree out to us, there’s big bits of yellow fruit with the Cashew nut (which is the seed) hanging out of the bottom, he told us that the fruits are ready on that particular tree, we were told that the nut unprepared is actually poisonous, you have to cook the nuts in a fire, that then burns all the poison off, no wonder they are so expensive. We will have to look at that another day!

This signs a little different from the ones we saw in Puerto Vallarta!

Our first site we’re on our way to is called Joya de Ceren, its past San Salvador so we’re in for a bit of a drive. Joya de Ceren is an Mayan agricultural site, this is where the normal people lived, growing cocoa, corn and other stuff, it’s very different to the other sites around here mainly for a couple of things, firstly it belongs to the Mayan people, not like the typical Mayan pyramids that belonged to the royalty of the Mayan world, the other reason of its significance is how preserved it is, it’s only preserved the way it is because it was covered by volcanic ash a few times. The archeologists have learnt a lot from this site because when the volcano nearby erupted, the people fled leaving everything the way it was. It’s likened to Pompeii becuase of the volcanic material preserving everything, but there is one huge difference, here at Joya de Ceren they have found no human body’s! We walked through a little museum there and our guide explained everything to us, you can see he’s quite passionate about his history. Basically this site was found by complete accident in the 70’s, like most of them, some guy was landscaping the land here with a bulldozer, in the middle of doing this he accidentally hit a corner of some sort of structure underground, he informed someone about what he had found, it was so lucky that the land here was public land, if it had been private land it would of been ignored and bulldozed anyway! Apparently, it came out recently that there was a site similar to this one, but it was on private land so they quickly got rid of it, so they could build over it! In the museum it had loads of information about the area, they were able to get moulds of half eaten corn cobs, bowels with bean soup still in them, these people really did just leave everything to save themselves!

Above is a picture of a house, you can see all the layers of volcanic material this place was covered with, all the wood has been put back in, everything like that burnt away in the intense heat of the ash, putting it back in adds structure, it also shows you the building skills that were used!

They used a wood similar to bamboo to add structure to the walls, exactly the same techniques used today with re bar and concrete. Apparently it was very earthquake proof because of this, this area is extremely seismic. This wall was knocked over in an earthquake before the volcano erupted all those years back, these buildings are extremely sensitive to the elements now so they are covered over with big roofs to keep the rain out.

Walking over to the next lot of in unearthed building our guide pointed this out to us, we didn’t know what it was at first but he told us it was cocoa beans… Chocolate! The ones in the top picture are very young beans and are not ready yet, the ones below are ready, we didn’t pick them though unfrotunately!

Here’s a few more pics of the settlement, they didn’t build everything in one place, they slept separate from where they stored food and the kitchen was detached from them, incase of fire I think.

In this one you can see the layers of the ash again, the archeologists quite often leave lumps of this just to stop something falling down, doorways etc

While everyone was in the toilet the guide showed me a mango tree with all the mangos around it on the floor, I picked one up and ate it, it was really good, the guide ran over to get a bag and picked them all up, I was a bit gutted because I thought he was keeping them, but infact he gave them to me to keep for dinner! Here’s a bad photo of the cashew fruits

We were finished up and Joya de Ceren and were on our way to the next site, which was called San Andreas, it was a ten minute drive away down the same river, obviously their source of water.

San Andreas is different from Joya de Ceren because it’s a ceremonial site (where they do the infamous human sacrifices), this is the place the kings hang out, inbetween the pyramids they have their own ‘highway’ a raised path to get around, the higher you are the more important you are, the kings and queens have to be higher then everyone else!

There’s not as much cocoa around here but there is coffee, coffee only grows well in altitude, at sea level it’s a bit too hot for the plant, but it won’t produce if it’s too high, it has to be just right for it, we must be at a sufficient level because these look good to me!

We walked through the little museum there, we were shown a little about how the royalty lived back in the day, one thing that stood out to me and Katie were how beauty was a big thing amongst them. They would attach beads on string to a babys forehead that dangle Infront of their eyes, being crossed eyed was thought to be beautiful. We also saw a kings skull in the display, the guide pointed out the teeth of the skull, the front 4 teeth had holes in their faces, they had ground out these hole so they could implant the stone Jade into it to show wealth! They did all this with just alcohol and no anaesthetic! The skull had been ‘modified’ I’ve pinched this image from the website but it shows how they used to do this while childrens heads were soft! Completely crazy nowadays!

These pyramids are constructed of volcanic rock, then they slapped on a smooth concrete type material to keep it all together. Here these are covered in grass, they keep it covered, again to protect it from the elements.

After San Andreas we made it over to basically the otherside of El Salvador, along the way we’re going to stop at a big volcano then for lunch to break the day up a little. In the volcano there’s a lake formed in the crater, the volcano isn’t actually active anymore and it hasn’t been for ages! While we were driving to the top, I was thinking maybe we could go for a quick dip!

I couldn’t believe the scale of this thing, it will probably be a day trip in itself to go swimming in the crater lake! We couldn’t get a picture to show the full view of it it was so big!

It’s a shame we didn’t have lunch with the view of this in the background, but instead we jumped in the van and headed of somewhere else for lunch. We didn’t get told where we were going for lunch but everyone’s starving and can’t wait! We eventually made it to ‘Lovers Steak House’ near the city Santa Ana. It was obviously somewhere where the tour goes often because the guide knew everyone there, it was heaving in there, they still quickly knocked us up a table for six, I ordered beer and the guide told me that this place was also a sports bar, so with every beer you get a little snack with it, I got the breaded prawns! It was nice to sit down for lunch, we had a chance to chat to the guide on mutual grounds, it turns out the guy was a tour guide on the weekends and an English teacher during the week, he was telling us about the recent truce between the rival gangs which was helped by the catholic church here, he was also telling us about all the other work the government out here is doing about education for the younger kids, to try and eliminate gang culture from a young age! We’re getting the impression that the country does actually want to change and seem to be getting things done about it, infact El Salvador had its first day without any killings for 3 years, only a few weeks ago! Anyway lunch was great, the food was the best food we have had for a good while, perhaps the first in El Salvador!

As we were in Santa Ana we went to the town centre to have a quick look around. Santa Ana has a lot of Italian influence, the Italians actually came over here and built a church, streets, town halls and even a social club, people who are from Santa Ana even have Italian second names to this day! The church of Santa Ana was built by Italian architects, they built it with clay brick, which they then carved after while the bricks were in situation.

It was amazing inside, it’s quite popular as well, every service they hold they have to have three of them at different times of the day, just to accommodate the sheer amount of people who turn up to go to them! It was a flying visit in Santa Ana, we went to a italian built theatre that’s been recently restored, that was also pretty spectacular, sadly none of the photos came out good enough though!

We did see this sign while we were in the square, you would of thought it would go without saying, but someone obviously thought people need reminding!

After Santa Ana city centre we had only one more place to see, Tazumal I think he may of been saving the best to last!

Tazumal is a massive site, most of it isn’t excavated yet, most of these sites are totally forgotten about , they all start out as just big hills, people build on then eventually find out they are building on amazing history, most of Tazumal is mixed in with other peoples houses, because they were just going into the dense jungle to get rocks, they didn’t know that they were taking rocks from Tazumal! They have found tombs, palaces and loads of other things, it’s still being excavated to this day by Japanese archeologists

So the deal with the Mayan calendar, it’s to do with something, maybe the sun god, being born every 57 or so years, the calendar that everyone thinks means the world is going to end, does infact end on the 21st of December, it doesn’t mean that the world is going to end though it means that the calendar is going to restart, they also build extensions onto their pyramids, in this photo below you can see the different stages of the construction, 57 years apart, everytime the calendar restarts

Steve I think his name was, was the main guy over here, he was an American archeologist, who discovered a lot for our understandings of the Mayans today, he loved it so much he became an El Salvadorian citizen before he died recently, he even lived in Tazumal, can you imagine living with that in your back garden?

While we were walking past his house the guide said to keep your eyes on the floor because the rain washes away the mud and you can sometimes find Obsidian, its a dark natural glass that forms by lava cooling down without crystal growth, the Mayans used it for spear heads, knives and other utensils, apparently it’s being used by companies that make medical tools, because it is so sharp! Anyway Katie found two bits of it and the guide gave her another, the Mayan people offered it to the gods in the ceremonies, that’s why we can find loads of it after it rains, one of Katie’s pieces looks like its been worked by hand! It’s an incredible feeling to have something in your hands that someone else was holding around 2000 years ago!

Walking around the site we came across a graveyard, only recently it was the day of the dead over here, the people come down, tidy up the graves, bring new flowers and just generally be down there.

When we were finished up at Tazumal we went over the road into a little shop, (obviously one of the guides mates again), it was a Jade shop, jade was the treasure of the Mayans, not like the gold in Mexico. Apparently when the Spanish came over to invade they asked the Mayan people to bring them their treasures, when they were brought the Jade the Spanish basically laughed at them, and made their way to Mexico to find real treasures! Jade is actually getting to be more expensive then gold, apparently a while back it was $3000 an ounce! It’s a really hard stone and the only thing that can cut it is diamond! This lady and a fist sized chunk on her top shelf, our guide got it down to show it to us, it was a carving of a god, the nose of the guy was a different colour to the rest of it, when asked how much it was, she told us it wasn’t for sale! We all brought our birthday Mayan charms, a little like the birthstone back home, it wasn’t that expensive but the lady told us it was real jade, she continued and scratched the jade a piece of metal, she told us if it was imitation jade it would of scratched the hell out of it! It was a nice souvenir for a great day out!

We saw this little guy outside the shop I don’t think he was for sale though

Now we’re in for a near 2 hour drive home, it was well worth it though! When we arrived at the marina we took all of our empty bottles and said our goodbyes! As we were walking off they shouted us back and gave us our bag full of the mangoes! Free food!

 

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